The battle of Borodino was one of the bloodiest engagements in the history of warfare. In Bonaparte's campaign to conquer Russia, 250,000 men and 1,100 artillery pieces met across a three-mile front, resulting in 75,000 casualties. Astonishingly, all of this carnage transpired from dawn to nightfall within a single day: 7 September 1812, leading to the agonising withdrawal of Bonaparte's French troops. This battle inspired Tchaikovsky's '1812 Overture' and much of the plot of Tolstoy's 'War and Peace'.
'Kutuzov' was filmed in the USSR during World War Two, using substantial manpower and resources that might have been put to better use on Russia's battlefront. This movie is clearly intended as wartime propaganda, to inspire Soviet troops and civilians to continue the war against the Third Reich. (Funny, I could have sworn that Hitler and Stalin were on the same side when the war started.) The credits of this film are in Cyrillic, so please pardon my imperfect attempts to transliterate the actors' names.
Alexei Dykiy, in an eyepatch and crepe hair, plays Prince Kutuzov, the commander of the Russian forces at Borodino. Bonaparte is played by an actor named Sergei Mezhinski. Unfortunately, Napoleon Bonaparte is one of those historical personages whose physical appearance is so well-known that any actor's attempt to portray him must be largely a physical impersonation. Mezhinski gives a good performance as Bonaparte, but his physical resemblance is far from perfect.
I don't know how accurate the historical details of this film are, so from here onward this synopsis reflects only what's in the film, not what's in the history books. Kutuzov is in disgrace for incurring major losses at the battle of Kuluga. To redeem himself, he commits every available man against Bonaparte's forces at Borodino; meanwhile, Bonaparte is reluctant to commit his freshest and most elite troops to the battle. Consequently, the czarist forces under Kutuzov rout the French. The scenes of Bonaparte's troops in defeat are harrowing. Kutuzov becomes the hero of Borodino.
This film is propaganda, so of course the Russian figures are depicted more sympathetically than the French. I can forgive the subjectivity. The biggest problem with 'Kutuzov' is that small groups of extras are employed to enact incidents which involved literally *hundreds of thousands* of men. During the battle scenes, the camera keeps coming in too tight, showing us little vignettes of action instead of the larger battlefield. Even allowing for cheap labour in Russia, and wartime contingencies, this was a strange decision. Couldn't someone have worked up some matte shots, or some other effect, to more convincingly convey the illusion of 250,000 troops?
Nikolai Timchenko (as the czar) and Alexander Stepanov (as Bonaparte's first marshall) give stiff performances. Many scenes are unconvincing, leaving me to question the historical accuracy. I'm intrigued that the Soviets chose to make a film in which czarist forces are depicted heroically, but of course this was wartime propaganda. I found 'Kutuzov' dull and wearying, but some combat veterans have told me that prolonged combat is wearying too. Some of the 19th-century artillery pieces in this movie look interesting, but they're seen far too briefly. I'll rate this movie 2 points out of 10. Skip this movie and watch the video of King Vidor's version of 'War and Peace'.
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